By Bryan Davis, Former West Indies Test cricketer
I would be the first to admit that the West Indies (WI) cricket team played beyond my expectations and it was wonderful to witness.
The first Test in any series is of vital importance and to bowl off on a winning start is ideal indeed!
With the first Test played (July 8 –12) and won, the winning side holds the advantage; they can dictate the pace. The other side has to catch-up, which is a thankless task especially in a three-Test series.
On a dark, dismal morning on the first day of the match, Ben Stokes, who had taken over the reins of the English captaincy from Joe Root, because of the latter’s unavailability, won the toss and elected to bat.
It was a strange decision I thought, as with the dark clouds low in the sky, the atmosphere would help the ball swing appreciably. Also, the fact there was no sunshine meant the surface of the pitch would retain its moisture for a longer period and make batting more problematic, as the ball would grip and deviate.
WI bowlers though, could not get into a steady rhythm because of the constant stoppages for rain and bad light. It was so bad that only 17.4 overs were bowled on the first day.
On the second day the West Indian bowlers held the advantage as the wicket was still quite helpful and vicious at times. Although he hasn’t admitted it, I’m sure Stokes regretted his decision.
England was bowled for 204 and never looked like scoring much more than that. Excellent bowling by skipper Jason Holder (6 for 42), and Man-of-the-Match Shannon Gabriel (4 for 62) used the conditions beautifully.
Gabriel bowled really quickly getting up to 93 mph while the captain used his fast-medium trundlers with excellent control of line and length allowing the pitch to do the rest. Accuracy is always fundamental for bowlers at Test level.
When the Caribbean players had their innings, they also had difficulty. However, intelligent batsmanship by Kraigg Brathwaite and the left-handed John Campbell helped the score to 57 for 1 wicket at close of play.
Campbell was the one to go lbw to Jimmy Anderson for 28. It was tough batting conditions continuing on the third day, nevertheless, WI batsmen concentrated fiercely and grafted wisely, Brathwaite being the sheet anchor with a solid 65, and Shane Dowrich, who played quite attractively for 61, guided the team to 318.
A solid innings of 47 from Roston Chase plus an attractive 39 from Sharmah Brooks, helped the cause!
The pitch and the weather improved as the match moved on. Yet it was never a good batting wicket, always having something for the bowler with movement off the seam and variable bounce. It was also two-paced. Not easy! It required technique and concentration!
The fourth day was an absolutely crucial time of the game. A lead of 114 on this surface was quite handy and beneficial, then again, the bowling would have to be tidy and inspiring in the second inning to contain the English batsmen, in order not to lose any advantage that they worked so hard to gain in the first innings.
Again, Gabriel bowled quickly and steadily; this time he had the unlikely support of Chase with his gentle off breaks, to break a couple of brewing partnerships. He removed the dangerous Rory Burns and added Joe Denly for 42 and 29 respectively. This caused a big dent in the batting order.
Dominic Sibley (50), Zac Crawley (76) and skipper Stokes were sent back to the pavilion by the fiery Gabriel, the improving Alzarri Joseph and skipper Holder, crushing the batting depth just when they were looking dangerous.
After these three the last two were wrapped up on the final day by Gabriel, who ended with five wickets.
This left Holder’s men to score 200 runs to win. After an initial scare that saw Campbell, limping off the field before he had scored, with a big toe injured by fast bowler Mark Wood. Then Brathwaite and Hope, the most prolific scorers for WI, were bowled by Jofra Archer and Wood. Brooks soon followed, palpably lbw to Archer for no score, and with the scoreboard reading 27 for 3, Simmons’ soldiers were staring down the barrel of a gun.
The most optimistic WI supporter must have been getting palpitations. The wicket was slow and showing a bit of help for the bowlers, yet it was a good wicket to bat on, if no unnecessary risks were taken.
Eventually, a responsible innings by Jermaine Blackwood who played courageously for 95, guided WI home! It showed character and courage to come back from the early collapse to win.
Congrats WI! Well done to all concerned. The battle has just begun!